When I was a vaguely impressionable third-grader I read "Kidnapped", "The Swiss Family Robinson" and "Huck Finn" in rapid succession.
I became obsessed with the idea of roughing it alone, in the woods with nothing but a trusty knife and several small strips of leather. It seemed that was all you needed to get out of trouble.
My parents, bless them, didn’t have much of a reason to drag all six of their kids out into the woods during the middle of the school year, so I had to make do climbing the tree border we shared with the neighbor who lived just behind us in our East Texas subdivision.
But, it seemed disingenuous to adventure by day and snuggle with my Teddy (Roosevelt) by night. So I found myself camping in a one-person tent one night, huddled in a sleeping bag, listening to the strange outdoor noises one hears when they’ve nothing else around to distract them.
I didn’t make it the whole night. I didn’t even make it half the night. The rain and cold chased me inside before the rest of the family was even asleep. At the time I thought maybe I’d have a better time of it if I built a tree house. But, that’s a story for another time.
I had my second backyard camping experience, or something close to it, in the Chugach National Forest near Exit Glacier last weekend. A camping buddy and I decided we would head to the glacier for the weekend and hike the Harding Ice field, but upon arrival, decided it would be far more fun to park a few miles away from the campground.
We’d hike across the Resurrection River bed and make our way through the woods to the glacier. Six hours and several pants-less wades through fast-moving glacial water we made it to the other side of the riverbed, but were still within sight-distance of the Subaru. I’m positive that were it able to do so the car would have laughed at our antics and sent us into the tent with milk and a plate of cookies.
We spent the night just around a bend in the tree line which allowed us to wake in the morning without having to look at it.
In the meantime, I learned to tie a square knot, cook far enough away from camp to keep the bears away and hang food up high enough to keep it from prying critter paws.
We put the tent up in a semi-dry section of soft sandy riverbed, wiggled into our sleeping bags and slept soundly.
We slept so well, in fact, that my first though upon waking was ‘The river has gotten really loud.”
Sure enough, it had managed to swell in size overnight leaving us ostensibly stranded within sight but just out of reach of the highway.
Even the tree where we’d hung food for the night and the charming little island just beneath it had become somewhat of a water hazard, and I got a good laugh out of my camping partner hurdling the mini-river to retrieve our morning oatmeal.
Then, we set off to find a way around the river and back to the road.
Five hours of hiking along a bear path through the woods and several aborted attempts to cross where the water looked somewhat less threatening left me exhausted, covered in holes from Devils Club and weirdly excited about wading through six feet of icy water to climb up a bridge and back onto the highway.
From there it was a simple three-mile hike back to the car, a sheepish phone call to the boss to explain my unexpected absence and a successful (sort of) first off-trail hike.
Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what it’d be like to camp more than a mile from the comfort of a highway, tent or vaguely maternal Subaru.
Maybe someday I’ll make it outside of my own proverbial backyard, and when that happens there are a number of other things I’d also like to accomplish: Build a raft and use it to sail barefoot down a river, preferably with some sort of straw hat, calm a horde of angry bees with ingenuity and pipe tobacco, get kidnapped on the high seas and soundly whip a few pirate rogues.
If you'd like to assist with any of these things, shoot me an email. Lets make an adventure.